Sunday, 24 August 2014

Two Excellent Nights On The Bounce.

Now, three nights after the first observations were made, I now find myself awake enough to report on a fantastic couple of nights of observing.  Ever since the middle of last week, I kept an eye on the weather forecast, in particular 7 Timer which is where I get my astronomy weather data from, and hoped for a few good clear nights.  The main interest initially was an opportunity to spot C2/2014 E2 Jacques and perhaps to photograph it a little better.  The dates were set to make spotting the comet very easy.  Alas, easy it was not, and struggle I did.  So much so, that despite all the latest literature, and even real time reports arriving via the wonders of social media, I really struggled.  However, there was a back up plan...
The night of Friday 22nd was clear, cool and very dark.  Recently, temperatures across the UK have dropped which has settled the atmosphere down and improved seeing.  This combination added to the current moon phase meant that this had to be one of the best observing nights so far this year, definitely the best since winter.  It was one of those nights where you just wished that it went on for much longer than it actually did.
In my previous post where I wrote about my attempt to capture E2 Jacques, I mentioned that I had possibly caught a glimpse of a double cluster.  So, I decided the area of sky I was first going to target was the constellation of Cassiopeia.  In my search for the comet, I happened across an open cluster.  An unusual one really, and a first for me where I am looking for one target but come across something else of note.  A little more research and checking of my Cambridge Star Atlas told me that what I had in fact located was NGC 637.  An open cluster.  In my notes from the night, I've just listed it as a faint fuzzy.  I found it hard to resolve any specific stars in the cluster. but definitely a bonus tick and a good start to the night.
Back to the photo and the double cluster.  I had identified via the photograph a double cluster in Cassiopeia NGC 884 and 869.  When I located these two using the scope, I thought they were fantastic.  Both of these were showing as very bright open clusters on an inky black background of sky.  Now, this was also chance to get first light with my new BST 12 and 15mm Starguiders.  Initially, I found the double cluster using the 25 mm EP which gave me excellent views, but using first the 15 mm, and then the 12 mm, I was able to concentrate on each cluster individually.  I wasn't disappointed.  I was able to fully resolve dozens of individual stars in each cluster.  I must have speant over 20 minutes looking at these two clusters alone.  Certainly a target I will revisit in the future.
A note appears in my notebook from that night...

Seeing is v.good tonight.  Clearest for a long while.

Whilst in this area of the sky, knowing that the seeing was very good, I decided to pick out the old favorite of Andromeda and local objects, M32 and M33.  Using the 25mm (which is usually the EP I always start off with) Andromeda did it's usual thing of filling the EP, but even more so on this night.  The extreme edges of the outer arms were well and truly out of the field of view of the EP.  A truly magnificent site.  At 15mm, I was able to pick out more detail surrounding the central core of the galaxy.
As the view was so good, I decided to make use of the DSLR camera that I brought outside with me.  I have a direct attachment for DSLRs on the tube rings of the telescope, so I decided to remove my Telrad and mount the DSLR on the scope.  Exposure time was going to be limited, and focus was going to be a challenge, but I was willing to give it a go.  I took around half a dozen or so test frames and played with the settings on the camera until I got to something that was in my opinion, acceptable for what I wanted to achieve.  Without having the laptop available and connected to the camera, it was always going to be a bit hit and miss with focus, but I got somewhere close.
In the original largest image, there is evidence of trailing, but for a small picture like this, I think it is just fine.  This image has had no post processing.

Andromeda and surrounding area.
Once my brief visit to photography was over, I started back on the observing.  I decided to leave Cassiopeia, and start looking at some other constellations.  Delphinus and Sagitta were now easily visible above the roof line of the house, so it was time to pay them a visit.  I started off with a quick re-visit to M71.  It was a brief visit to this magnitude 7.1 cluster, but with the improved seeing conditions, resolving stars in the cluster was easier than before.
A short hop across the bottom of Cygnus into Lyra brought me to M57 the Ring Nebula.  I couldn't let conditions like these pass without visiting more of the classics.  The Ring Nebula never lets me down.  I think for the first time using the 8mm BST EP, I was actually able to resolve the darker inner area of the nebula which gives the target the characteristic ring appearance.  It was stunning, and I thought very well done through my little 150mm reflector.  I also wanted to give first light to my next birthday pressie, my OIII filter.  Though intended for use with larger aperture telescopes, I was keen to see the effect that this filter had having never used one before.  I attached it to the 15mm EP, which I knew was going to be a stretch visually with the reduction in light coming through the EP via the filter.  So, that experiment packed away for another day, I brought out the 5mm EP.  Using this, the Ring Nebula  was much dimmer, but with time at the scope, I managed to resolve a single star right next to the nebula.  I have since seen the star in many pictures of the nebula on the internet, but I can't find reference to its name.  From the notebook on the night...

V. Impressed!  Referred to Stellarium, but no sign of what star it is.  I will need to research...
Amazing and stunning moonless clear night!  V. Happy :-)

And finally for this night, I swung the scope around towards Triangulum and M33, the Triangulum Galaxy.  This was still low to the limit of my observable sky from my spot in the back garden, and truth be told, wouldn't usually be something I would bother with because of a white LED streetlight and other such delights in that direction.  Alas, when I did find it, it was disappointingly washed out.  But that didn't detract from a fantastic and memorable nights observing whatsoever.
I had to call an end to the night by around 12.30 and pack up for an 8.30 tee was beckoning the next morning meaning a 6.30 get up time.
The next night, although equally as good in terms of conditions, tiredness curbed my enthusiasm somewhat meaning that I only actually got round to observing a single target.  A combination of annoying neighbors lights, frustration at not being able to locate my desired targets in Ophiuchus and general tiredness made me think the better place to be on this one occasion was tucked up in bed.
The target for the night was M15.  A globular cluster in the lower right of Pegasus.  Using the 25mm EP, it looked to me like a small fuzzy star.  However, when I increased magnification to the 15mm EP, the cluster was more defined with brightness in the centre but dimming quickly outwards.  When I observed this target, true darkness had not yet arrived, so I shall have to re-visit this in the future.


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